Monday, August 17, 2009

Seek and Find Family

I wasn't looking for it. It wasn't something I had been dwelling on. But it struck me, with a flash of hope, on vacation in the Outerbanks, NC. I know it's out there. I know people value it. But it's not something you get to see in all its glory as I witnessed it two weeks ago. Family still exists! And I'm not just talking about nuclear families. I'm talking big, extended families sharing time and having fun together on vacation.

This was our second year vacationing in Corolla, NC. At times it feels like the middle of no where. Large houses dot the beach towns as you drive north on NC-12. Some look more like mansions. Multiple cars with a variety of license plates fill the drive-ways. But these are not hotels. Families come to stay the week. Aunts and Uncles, Brothers and Sisters, Cousins, Grandparents...they are together on this island where the nearest movie theater is over 40 minutes away. Unlike the Jersey shore, families spend the day and the night on the beach. At sunset, the beach is packed with people; children darting in and out of the warm ocean, fathers fishing in the surf, families walking their dogs enjoying the warm sea breezes. It's remarkable. During the day families mark their little piece of the beach with "party" tents and shade canopies. They compete in beach games of all kinds, some traditional like bocce ball and horseshoes, but others unique adaptatations of familiar yard games. Beach chairs are lined up to watch the competition and laughter sails on the breeze. It was like a picture postcard, a Norman Rockwell, of the American family. And it exists! It was like a breath of fresh air and it gave me hope that family is still valued. There's something special when generations have the opportunity to spend time and share love with each other.

On a personal note, we vacationed with my parents, my grandmother, my brother, sister-in-law & their 2 kids, and my husband & I & our 2 kids. There were eleven of us total. And we may have been a small family in comparison to the ones that surrounded us on the beach in Corolla. We might have marked our piece of the beach with umbrellas instead of large canopies, but I celebrate the fact that after all these years, we still love each other, want to spend time with each other, and make that effort.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Canoe

It was a hot, humid day. The sun was shining and there was a mild breeze over the bay. We unloaded the canoes and the kayaks at the boat ramp. I climbed into the front of the green canoe and he pushed us off as he carefully sat down in the back. We were off to explore the Pine Island area of the bay with our happy faces on.

Are there rules for canoeing? I have been canoeing before. I just always sit in the front. I don't ask questions. I'm pretty sure the one in the back is in charge of steering, but what is my job exactly? Apparently I'm just supposed to paddle, but I quickly learn just paddling is not going to cut it. I ask the "driver" for a little guidance and he tells me to just paddle. Just paddle? Okay, I can do that. But wait a minute, which side do I paddle on? And how do I know when to change sides? And my arm is tired, can I just stop for a minute?

It doesn't take long for the bickering to start. I'm a woman so I want to talk about paddling a canoe. I want to know my job description before I hop aboard, but alas, I'm already in the boat and we're too far from the dock to turn back now. So we move forward through the sea grasses, which slow us down. We have not discussed where we are heading. Since I'm goal oriented I want to know our destination. It's not enough for me to just paddle aimlessly around the bay. Have you been on this bay? This is not a small bay. We must have a plan...I mean, I must have a plan.

"Where are we going?" I ask, trying not to sound frustrated.
"I don't know. Where do you want to go?" he replies with a grunt.
Yes, I heard that grunt. That grunt must mean he's frustrated with my questions, so I say, "You're steering this boat. Where do you want to go?".
"Don't worry about it. Just paddle."

There it is again. Just paddle. I can't take it anymore. I need more information.

"Could you give me a little more information then just paddle?" I say annoyed.
"Paddle on the left." He's clearly agitated.
So I paddle on the left until my arm is ready to fall off. Did I mention that I go canoeing at most, once a year? I do not have my canoe paddling muscles toned. So I stop paddling for a while. I can't see his face, but his grunting gets louder. He's mad, I think, because I'm not doing my job. Oh, why did we ever agree to go canoeing?

It's hard to paddle the canoe in the bay. There is moving water in the bay and between the currents, the wind, and the sea grass it's hard to get the canoe moving in any direction, especially the one you want to go in. The "driver" can't do it himself. He needs me to help him. But I don't know how to help. He's not talking to me. He's not communicating what he needs from me. I'm in the front of the boat. I can't see what he's doing back there. As much as I can tell he's not doing much of anything. I think we might be going backwards!

Finally, frustrations erupt. They cannot be contained any more.
"This is not fun," I say.
"Well, what do you want me to do?" he cries.
"Communicate. Tell me how I can help. I can't see what's going on back there. I need you to lead." There. I said it. And it hits me. This canoe trip is a metaphor for our marriage. If we cannot operate a canoe together, then how can we steer this marriage in the right direction? The core problems we encountered with the canoe are the most important things we require in our marriage. Communication! It's the key. I want him to communicate with me. Lead me. From the back he can see it all. He can see the big picture. He can see me. I want him to give me some direction. I want him to see that I'm paddling on the right and paddle to my rhythm. I want him to tell me "I want to go right or left or straight" so I don't paddle to compensate for a direction he's trying to go in.

It got pretty bad out there. I threatened to swim back to the dock. I volunteered to be dragged behind a kayak. Anything would have been better than to be on our "sinking ship". I'm sorry for that. Typical of me when the going gets bad I want to jump ship. I wouldn't jump ship, mind you. I would just threaten to jump ship. At my wits end I need some hope. You can't really canoe effectively if both paddlers are not working together. To make it through the heavy current or through the thick grasses you have to work in tandem. That's where you get your power.

Hurt feelings aside, the "driver" took a deep breath. He gave me some directions. For the first time that day we were in sync. The canoe glided gracefully through the water. We were together. We were a team. We were not paddling alone in the same canoe. We both agreed; this is the way it's supposed to be. He gives me some directions. He communicates his expectations. We work together. We move forward with strength and power.

Could be a metaphor for marriage. Could be a metaphor for God. We need Him. We need each other. We cannot do this life alone. There is no "I" in "TEAM". Adam and I have never really been good at canoeing or kayaking together. What does that say about us? I guess all it really says is that we have more work to do. Atleast we could talk about it. Atleast we could see what was missing and work to fix it.

Overall, we enjoyed our canoeing adventure. We saw a green heron. The kids swam with the sea grass. We smelled the "lovely" odors of the marshes. In the end, we paddled together through the slowing sea grass. We paddled together against the strong currents and the wind that was trying to push us back to open water. We arrived back at the dock, in tact, with our happy faces on again.

Maybe next time we should try the one man kayak? No, it's so much better to do this life together then alone. Even if we fight and struggle along the way. At the end of the day we still have each other, a lesson learned, and a memory of paddling through it together.
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